Picture a BMW Z3 roadster with a station wagon-like hatchback grafted onto its rear and you'll get an idea about the radical looks of the 1999 BMW M coupe. But don't groan and walk away - because we're convinced the racy little coupe is the sports
car for the new millennium. Our test car carried a $42,670 sticker and had only one option, a $300 power moonroof. She: You know my dirty little secret - that my true passion is doll collecting, not car collecting. That's why I'm so blown
away by the BMW M coupe. I really like it. The minute you look at it, you know it's like nothing else on the road. He: Yeah, I can almost picture Barbie driving this. But seriously, some people we encountered were turned off by its looks. You'll
either love it or hate it. She: I think a lot of people will be won over by the M coupe's breathtaking interior. Our test car's cabin was a dramatic brick red and black. And the attention to detail is telling, from the red-blue-and-purple
topstitching on the inside of the leather-wrapped steering wheel to the industrial-looking rivets around the chrome-trimmed gauges. He: The color scheme is a hallmark of BMW's M division, which is made up mostly of gearheads and boy racers. And
you can sure tell from driving the M coupe. My big concern is that you like it so much, you may decide to start collecting cars instead of dolls. She: BMW makes a cheaper version of the hardtop - the Z3 coupe 2.8, which sells for only $36,000.
But when you get right down to it, the M coupe is worth the extra $6,000. In fact, it-s so loaded with extras from air conditioning to power accessories and seats that the only options are a moonroof and an in-dash single-disc CD player. He: I'm
shocked to hear you say that, Mrs. Cheap, especially about a sports car. But I can also anticipate the first question that most enthusiasts are likely to ask - is it fast? It sure is. The M-division guys have tweaked the 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine to
produce 240 horsepower. And they've hooked it up to a sweet five-speed manual gearbox. The combination is intoxicating. We're talking serious speeding-ticket stuff here. She: Intoxicating and speeding tickets aren't words I'd put in a test drive.
So I'll remind you that BMW has paid attention to safety. The M coupe has side air bags and standard antilock brakes. It also comes with traction control and a limited-slip differential, both necessary in cold and wet weather, considering this is a
rear-wheel-drive car with lots of power. He: I can't rave enough about the car's variable-assist steering, which is razor sharp, and all-independent suspension, which is firm without being bone-jarringly stiff. You feel so totally in control,
that also contributes to the feeling of stability and security. On the down side, you only get two seats. Come to think of it, that might be a plus. She: Speaking of plus, if you shop in the hefty department, th
is won't be the car for you. Even our friend, the skinny personal trainer, squawked that the seats were too confining. On the other hand, it's a great incentive for keeping your weight down. He: And think of all that money you're saving on food.
It can go straight into the doll fund. I figure there's room enough in the trunk for a couple of those big American Girl dolls, isn't there? She: More importantly, this is a sports car with a conscience. Look at the fuel-economy numbers - 19 mpg
in the city and 26 on the highway. All that performance, and you can honestly tell people you-re driving an economy car. He: So let's tote things up. Brisk acceleration. Crisp handling. Supple ride. Eye-popping styling. Great safety and
better-than-average gas mileage. What do you come up with? She: A car that's going to make Porsche owners wonder if they've made a wrong turn somewhere.